This year’s International class is probably one of the strangest that has come in years. It includes some of the most intriguing prospects we ‘ve seen for a while, but at the same time there are a lot of question marks that follow almost all of them, making this year’s draft that much more unpredictable.
1. Dragan Bender (1997, 7-0, PF, Croatia, Maccabi)
It has been a frustrating season for Dragan Bender. With his team struggling all year long, there wasn’t really enough playing time for him and as a result he didn’t have the chance to show the world what he can do on the court against elite competition. Despite all that, he is still considered by many as the best International player of this year’s draft, mainly because of his past performances on the National Junior Level. And for good reason. Bender is a versatile player, who can play both forward positions, which is pretty impressive considering the fact that he is a 7-footer. In the future though it’s easier to imagine him becoming a prototypical Stretch-4, who can score, shoot, put the ball on the floor and create opportunities for his teammates due to his great court vision. On the other hand, it’s difficult not to mention that he is actually more of “Jack of all trades and master of none” player, since he can’t do anything at an elite level, he is just an average athlete by NBA standards and he has a natural skinny body type, which might make it difficult for him to add significant muscle.
2. Furkan Korkmaz (1997, 6-8, SG, Turkey, Anadolu Efes)
Considered the biggest talent of Turkish basketball and one of the most talented (if not the most talented) wing in Europe, Korkmaz really struggled this year in the Turkish League. Korkmaz had problems adjusting to his former coach’s (Dusan Ivkovic) system in Anadolu Efes, falling completely out of the rotation at one point, until Ivkovic was fired. He had such a frustrating season, that he allegedly considered withdrawing from the draft, before deciding to keep his name in, probably because he was assured that he still had enough admiration from NBA teams, who like what he can bring on the table. Korkmaz has great size for a wing, he is an amazing shooter with a great shooting stroke and can create his own shot with ease. He is not overly athletic, he really needs to add some muscle (he barely weights 175 lbs!) and at the same time his defense remains a question mark. At the end of the day though, it’s difficult to imagine him falling beyond late teens in this year’s draft. His talent and upside just can’t be ignored.
3. Ivica Zubac (1997, 7-1, C, Croatia, Mega Leks)
NBA teams didn’t really have much of a chance to watch Zubac this year, because of an injury at the begining of the year and the fact that he had to leave his team (Cibona) due to unpaid salaries before he signed with Mega Leks and then finished the season strong. What’s really amazing though is that his stock remained steady almost all season long, mainly because of what he had shown in the past at the Junior Level with Team Croatia. NBA teams love Zubac’s size and wingspan (measured at 7-foot-4), especially because he is relatively mobile for his size. What really makes him stand out of course is his ability to score, since through time has developed a good back to the basket game and he also has a nice touch around the basket. On the other hand, there are some concerns about his health, because he already had two major injuries, at the moment he is considered just an average rebounder and his defense (especially on Pick And Roll Situations) needs a lot of work.
4. Guerschon Yabusele (1995, 6-8, PF, France, Rouen)
Yabusele turned a lot of heads in after his performances at the 2015 Eurocamp and everybody expected to see how much he has grown after one year of professional basketball under his belt. And the truth is that Yabusele delivered. The French power forward was one of the most productive International prospects of this year’s draft. He is a great athlete, built like a… bull and what’s even more amazing is that his frame suggests that he can become even stronger in the future after he spends some time in the gym. He is a great rebounder, he always gives 100% and he has all the tools to become a good defender, but what really helped him to go up one level was his improving 3-point shot during the year. With that said, he still has his flaws: He is considered a little bit undersized for a power forward (although his 7-1 wingspan can help him) he is not a consistent threat from the perimeter and he hasn’t been tested against elite competition yet.
5. Ante Zizic (1997, 6-11, C, Croatia, Cibona)
With the exception of Buddy Hield, it’s difficult to find a player in this year’s draft who managed to make a bigger leap on the draft board than Ante Zizic. The Croatian center was a beast this season, posting one double-double after another, becoming one of the most dominant Bigs in Adriatic League. Zizic has great length (7-3 wingspan), he is a relentless rebounder on both ends of the floor and he might be the best rebounder of his generation in Europe. But rebounding is just one aspect of his game. He loves playing in the post, he enjoys contact and his shooting mechanics suggest that he can even be a threat from the perimeter at some point. What can probably hurt his stock is that he is not very athletic, he has problems defending the Pick and Roll due to his limited lateral quickness and there is concern that he doesn’t have the upside of other International players.
6. Juan Hernangomez (1995, 6-9, SF/PF, Spain, Estudiantes)
After a season with a lot of ups and downs, Juan Hernangomez finds himself in a pretty good spot. The Spaniard forward began the season amazingly well, he had a 3 month period where he almost… disappeared, but he closed the season strong and even won the award of “ACB’s young player of the year”, reminding everybody that he remains an interesting prospect, with NBA ability. Hernangomez is a Stretch-4, who can put the ball on the floor and attack closeouts,who can rebound the ball well and has solid athleticism, things that are crucial because of the new small ball direction the NBA is heading. However the fact that he is not quick enough to guard perimeter players and not strong enough to guard power forwards hurts his stock and the same applies for his inability to be consistent all year.
7. Timothe Luwawu (1995, 6-7, SG/SF, France, Mega Lecs)
Luwawu exploded this year in Serbia, where he had the necessary playing time and trust to develop his game. The French wing played against solid competition in Adriatic League and held his own, showing everybody that he was up to the challenge. Luwawu fits perfectly in the modern era of NBA, since he has all the tools to become a great 3-and-D player. He has great size and athleticism for a wing, through the season improved considerably. His perimeter shooting and ball handling (his two biggest flaws until last year) advanced and he seemed like he enjoyed playing under pressure. His game still needs polishing of course and he must continue improving his perimeter shooting, which is still inconsistent, despite the good numbers. But if he manages to improve on those areas, then he can become a really good player.
8. Thon Maker (1997, 7-1, PF/C, Australia, Athlete Institute)
Thon Maker’s decision to not attend a college this year, but instead do a postgraduate year in Orangeville Prep in Canada, prevented NBA scouts to have a chance to watch him play at a high level against elite competition, making him a real mystery in this year’s draft. With that said, Thon Maker probably has the highest ceiling and at the same time the lowest basement among the Top-10 International prospects of this year draft. Standing at 7-1 feet tall with perimeter skills, Maker can really impress just about everybody with his ball handling and shooting ability. However, the fact that he just weighs just 218 lbs and he hasn’t been tested even just against average competition raises a lot of red flags. The thing though is that you just can’t ignore a guy at his size with perimeter skills, so it remains to be seen which team (and at what position) will take the risk with him, hoping to hit the jackpot.
9. Paul Zipser (1994, 6-8, SF/PF, Germany, Bayern Munich)
Inconsistency is probably the word that can best describe the season Paul Zipser had. Inconsistency in playing time, inconsistency in his role, inconsistency in his performances. And then… Eurocamp happened! The auto-eligible German forward showed up in Treviso and impressed everybody, outplaying Petr Cornelie, winning the MVP award of the event and reminding everybody all the good things that he brings to the floor. Zipser is a combo forward with good size and an NBA ready body, who can shoot the ball beyond the arc, play solid defense and do all the little things that coaches (and scouts) love in a role player, covering for the fact that he is not an elite athlete and his lateral quickness is just average. If he wants to become an NBA player in the future, though, he really needs to be able to score consistently from beyond the arc, something he is not able to do just yet.
10. Georgios Papagiannis (1997, 7-2, C, Greece, Panathinaikos)
The truth is that Georgios Papagiannis caught a lot of people by surprise when he decided to remain in the draft. After a strange season – where he spent most of his time backing up former NBAer Miroslav Raduljica, before he managed to surpass the Serbian center in the rotation and have some pretty good games in Greek Finals against Olympiakos. Papagiannis probably thought that he showed enough to NBA teams to get drafted. There is a high possibility for Isaia Cordinier and Petr Cornelie to get drafted before Papagiannis in this year’s draft. Papagiannis though is probably the most intriguing prospect between those three. With great size, good mobility, a rare ability to score in many ways and already an intimidating force on defense, the Greek prospect will surely get noticed, hoping that his strong points will cover his flaws (slow feet, problems guarding the Pick And Roll, mediocre passer).